The Bundobust boys on beer, bhajis and backers

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Bundobust boys on beer, bhajis and backers
With sites in Leeds and Manchester, Gujarati street food and craft beer specialist Bundobust is hotly tipped to expand nationwide. Not bad for a vegetarian Indian restaurant that doesn’t sell curry

Bundobust takes its name from an Anglo-Indian word that means binding or coming together. Founders Mayur Patel and Marko Husak picked it out of the Hobson-Jobson Dictionary, a fascinating tome that explores words that have crept into – and in this case back out of – the English language from the days of Britain’s colonial rule of the subcontinent (see also bungalow and pyjamas).

It’s an apt name for the two-strong group, which deftly blends craft beer with high-quality Gujarati food. As the son of Kaushy and Mohan Patel – the founders of Prashad, arguably West Yorkshire’s best known Indian restaurant – Patel knows a thing or two about the latter. 

Prashad started out as a corner shop in Bradford selling Gujarati snacks by the kilo, but is now one of Yorkshire’s most highly-rated Indian restaurants (in 2010 it was runner-up on Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant and Kaushy has penned two cookbooks).

Now based in the Leeds suburb of Drighlington, Prashad holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Patel grew up with the business and assisted his mother in the kitchen, latterly working with the family to take the cuisine in a more contemporary direction.

A former music manager and promotor, Husak is of Ukrainian descent and the founder of Sparrow in Bradford, which was something of an early bird in the UK’s craft beer movement (it opened in 2011 some years before ‘craft’ beer became a thing).

It started with a tweet

Bundobust owes its existence to a single tweet. Aware that, though hugely successful, Prashad was not well-placed to capitalise on a growing trend for street food and informal eating more generally, Patel contacted Husak to see if he wanted to collaborate on a series of events centred on Indian street food and craft beer.

“They sold out pretty much instantly and we realised we were on to something,” recalls Patel. “It’s the nation’s favourite food coupled with the nation’s favourite drink, after all.”

“It was good timing,” interjects Husak in an even stronger Leeds accent. “Both of us had already achieved some success and we were looking to expand. We did a few pop-ups and it soon became clear that we could work together.”

A chance meeting with a landlord at one of the first ever Bundobust-branded events saw the pair acquire a bricks and mortar site sooner than most fledgling street food traders. The first Bundobust opened in 2014 on Mill Hill in central Leeds, a once-forgotten street moments away from Trinity Leeds shopping centre.

Bundobust-Leeds_Interior

Another brick in the wall: two more restaurants are planned for 2019

They had intended to open a beer bar that did a sideline in high-quality Indian street food, but customers ended up treating Bundobust more like a restaurant. The split between food and drink sales is 60/40 at the Leeds site and 70/30 at the much larger Manchester restaurant, which opened late last year.

A non-vegetarian vegetarian restaurant

To be ordered from the bar, the food is extremely affordable with no plates priced over £6. Bundobust’s Gujarati-inspired menu will be largely unfamiliar to those whose only experience of Indian food is a bog-standard curry house.

There’s masala dosa (lentil and rice pancake filled with spiced mashed potato), idli sambhar (fluffy dumplings served floating atop a thin lentil soup) and the street food classic vada pav (a burger of sorts that contains a deep-fried ball of mashed potato and various chutneys).

As Gurjarati tradition dictates, the menu is vegetarian but this is not mentioned in any of the group’s marketing or PR. “We didn’t want to market ourselves as a vegetarian restaurant because we did not want to be pigeonholed. It puts some people off because they feel something is missing. I know that from working at Prashad, which does market itself as a vegetarian restaurant,” says Patel.

“Of course vegetarians seeks us out but I would estimate that three-quarters of our customers are meat eaters,” adds Husak. “When we were planning the concept we saw it as a potential weakness but looking back we would not change a thing. There’s a huge drive for restaurants to cater for vegetarians and vegans now.”

Many of Bundobust’s dishes are vegan and the rest can easily be adjusted to be (the Gujarati kitchen does not use ghee, which makes things much easier). The pair don’t employ any Gujarati chefs but most of the kitchen team does hail from India (in common with most other UK Indian restaurants, a disproportionate number are from Punjab and Nepal).

“It made sense to employ Indian chefs when we were getting Bundobust off the ground. We had contacts from Prashad and we wanted to get the recipes and tastes exactly right. But now we’re at the stage where we can start employing non-Indians. We have the right procedures in place to be able to train them.”

A throwaway approach

All the dishes are served in branded compostable pots made from plant starch and the plasticky-looking cutlery is made from leaves. The environmental benefits are significant – no warewashers means far less electricity, water and chemicals are used – but forgoing traditional tableware has turned out to be a cost-neutral exercise. 

“We thought there would be a big saving. We don’t employ kitchen porters but the pots don’t come cheap and they go into our food waste, which increases our refuse bills,” says Patel. “It’s more about the way it makes the concept feel. It cements exactly what we’re about and references the brand’s roots.”

Bundobust-Leeds_Food-no-beer

Pot luck: dishes are served in compostable containers made from plant starch

The Leeds and Manchester sites get through a staggering 12,000 pots a week. At the moment, the pots are hand-stamped with the Bundobust logo, which costs about four hours of labour at each site per week, but the pair are in the process of placing an order for 200,000 pre-printed containers.

No small beer

Bundobust is one of just a handful of restaurant groups to properly explore craft beer. Despite its well-publicised success, restaurants have largely avoided the category because mass-produced beer offers a better margin and sourcing the most interesting brews requires good contacts and a fair bit of effort.

“If you want the really good and interesting stuff the availability is limited. You can’t just press a button and order it in, which is what a lot of the larger restaurants want from their procurement. It’s a headache if you’re not into it yourself. We love it though,” says Husak. “We’re not necessarily looking for cutting-edge beer, but we want the best quality we can possibly get.”

Those based in the south will be dismayed to learn that Bundobust Manchester’s cheapest pint is £3.50. Margins vary, but are typically between 62% and 68%. “We need to please the beer nerd who thinks nothing of spending £6 on a half, but we also have people who aren’t that interested in beer and just want a good value pint,” continues Husak.

When Bundobust first opened, the offer was focused on hop-forward IPAs, but the range is broader now. There is an emphasis on beers that go well with spicy food – including wheat beers, saisons and Belgian triples – but the selection is eclectic. Beers come from all over the world, but each site has strong ties with local brewers (Manchester, for example, stocks lots of beers from highly-rated local breweries Cloudwater and Marble).

Though the emphasis is on niche brews, Husak is no snob. “There’s been a backlash in craft beer as larger breweries buy up the smaller players. But we take an ‘if it’s good, it’s good’ approach to sourcing.”

For example, Bundobust stocks Goose Island (which is owned by Budweiser owner AB InBev), although it does avoid the lines that can be found in the supermarkets.

Brewing up a storm

Patel and Husak will soon open a production kitchen on the outskirts of Leeds. “We make everything in big batches in the morning,” says Patel. “It will help with consistency and also recruitment, because the chefs there will be working 9 to 5.”

More excitingly, the 5,000sq ft space will also house a brewery. The kit Patel and Husak are looking at costs £500,000 and can produce 32 kegs of beer at a time. Bundobust will continue to support other breweries but making beer in-house has the potential to be very profitable indeed. 

The pair estimate it could add £100,000 to the bottom line at each site. Some of the beer will be produced by its existing team – it already employs some talented home brewers – but it will also collaborate with other brewers. The aim is to eventually supply other restaurants, bars and shops with Bundobust-branded beers.

Bundobust-beer-in-hand

Brew initiative: Bundobust will soon start making its own beer 

Further site expansion is also on the cards, with the pair set to sign the lease on their third site before the end of the year. In Liverpool, it will be of a comparable size to Bundobust’s Manchester site and is described as another “oddball” property. 

“This is the third time we’ve ended up taking the first site we’ve seen in a city. We’re very specific,” says Patel. “We want sites that other restaurant brands probably would not be interested in. We don’t need the really glamorous sites with the huge premiums and we’re happy to do them up.”

“We had to put in service to the Leeds site and Manchester was a state,” says Husak. “We don’t mind making the investment in getting it up to scratch because we can use the money we have saved on premiums and rents.”

Set-up costs for Leeds were £160,000. The much larger Manchester site cost around £400,000, and the Liverpool site is expected to cost around £300,000.

The pair are feeling the pressure that comes with being the custodians of a brand that’s been hotly-tipped to rollout. They’re also acutely aware of the amount of activity in the branded Indian space. Dishoom has just signed on a site in Manchester having made its regional debut in Edinburgh last year, and there are lots of smaller players that are expected to grow, including Kricket, Wrapchic and Mowgli.

The latter, a four-strong northern-based street food-inspired group, has sites in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, and will open a restaurant in Leeds next spring. 

“The bank has been good to us thus far and our current finance model is fine for doing one a year,” says Husak. “But we need to move faster now. “We’ve had some talks with potential investors. The main thing for us is finding someone we get on with and who has experience of rolling out stuff we like and – crucially – keeping it good. “We don’t want this brand to lose its soul along the way.”

With informal talks already under way, it seems likely that Bundobust will secure investment next year. In 2019, the pair hope to open two more restaurants in the north before heading southward.

“We like the look of Newcastle and we certainly want to open in the Midlands,” says Patel. “We will focus on large sites in large cities for the moment but there is certainly potential to fill in the gaps later on. We have more ideas, including a grab-and-go version of the concept.”

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